Functional skills policy is 'bonkers', says Ofsted

The requirement for apprentices to sit but not pass functional skills 'undervalues' the exam, adviser argues

Function skills, level 1 functional skills, level 2 functional skills, Dr Chris Jones, Ofsted, Mark Dawe

The requirement that apprentices must sit – but not pass – functional skills is “bonkers”, according to a leading figure at Ofsted.

Level 2 apprentices are required to sit level 2 functional skills exams in English and maths, but do not have to pass them in order to gain their apprenticeship.


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The approach was criticised by Chris Jones, the watchdog’s specialist adviser for apprenticeships, who was speaking at the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) annual conference in London today.

“I’ve been very clear that if an examination is worth taking, it is worth passing,” he said. “I think it’s undervaluing an examination to sit an examination without the expectation that you should have to pass it.

“I think that policy is bonkers. It undervalues the examination.”

Currently, apprentices have to sit and pass level 1 functional skills alongside their programme of training. They then also have to sit level 2 functional skills – which has three elements to it. Even if they fail the first element, and therefore fail the qualification, they still have to sit the rest.

Mark Dawe, chief executive of AELP, told Tes he agreed with Dr Jones.

“They sit there through level 2, have a miserable experience…and then they have to do their end-point assessment.

“When it comes to the end-point assessment, they’re massively demotivated because they’ve had a shitty experience,” he said.

Mr Dawe likened the situation to the controversial GCSE resits policy, in which students who have achieved a grade 3 pass are required to retake the qualification, instead of being able to sit functional skills as an alternative.

“It stands alongside the resits policy – forcing people to sit level 2 GCSEs without any sort of assessment about whether they’re capable of passing it or not.

“To me, it’s the same level of craziness, which has no sort of education and quality. It’s not a vein of quality of education running through policy. “

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